The motorcar finds itself at a crossroads. In one direction, signposts point towards a future of electrification, connectivity and – eventually, perhaps – autonomy. The other direction leads towards a booming restomod industry, where sizable chunks of cash are thrown at classics in a bid to remaster and futureproof past icons of the genre.
Restomodding has already extended far and wide, from Mazda MX-5s to Jaguars, Ferraris and even an Aston Martin DB5 equipped with James Bond’s gadgets. Somewhere in-between is the Porsche 911, and specifically the 964 generation 911 built between 1989 and 1993.
It is impossible to talk about resto-modded Porsche 964s without mentioning Singer, the Los Angeles firm famous for its custom 911s. But, while the ethos is similar, the car you see here is the work of Theon Design, a small British startup working out of a converted barn in the Oxfordshire countryside, not far from the UK’s ‘Motorsport Valley’. And as for any of the obvious Singer comparisons, the company sees itself more closely aligned with Porsche tuning company Ruf.
Theon Design was co-founded by Adam and Lucinda Hawley, and named after their son Theo. Adam is a car designer with decades of experience working on concept and production cars for BMW, Lotus and Jaguar Land Rover, among others. His background has helped Theon take a design-rich approach to Porsche re-imagination, where the details add up to produce a thoughtfully-curated greatest-hits compilation of a car.
“We didn’t want to do something completely non-Porsche,” Hawley explains. “We wanted it to feel natural for the car and for the brand. That’s the ethos we have gone with throughout, to utilize design and engineering from the past, present and future of Porsche, and integrate that into our cars as best we can…It’s about taking every element of the car and enhancing it.”
Although still recognizably a 964, the arches are swollen and the deep-dish Fuchs-style wheels give more than a hint of the performance that lays beneath. Nods to other highlights of Porsche’s portfolio include bullet-style wing mirrors like those of the 991 Speedster and a Turbo-esque quad exhaust. This particular example, called HK002 owing to it being the second Theon car headed to Hong Kong, wears a more subtle spec than one might expect for its circa $400,000 price tag, but orange exterior and yellow interior detailing help bring it to life.
Beneath the skin, major changes to the original recipe include relocating the air conditioning and power steering pumps from high up at the rear to low down at the front, thus improving the 911’s famous rear-bias weight distribution to a more driver-friendly 43:57, or 50:50 when measured diagonally. The front trunk these pumps reside in is leather-lined, of course.
Step inside, and the interior is a thing of beauty. Woven leather adorns Recaro bucket seats, while the iconic five-dial Porsche dashboard and thin-rimmed, small-diameter Nardi steering wheel are joined by modern touches like Bluetooth and a magnetic wireless phone charger for navigation and music. There’s even a small display for the reversing camera, flipping down into view when reverse is selected with the light but precise shifter.
It’s a compact cabin by modern standards, the upright windscreen well within touching distance, but a pair of small rear seats remain in place for children and serve as a reminder of the 911’s practicality. Also retained from this era of 911 are the offset pedals pushing the right-hand driver’s legs to the left, and the need to give the door a slam with which classic car owners will be familiar.
Interior panels are made of carbon fiber sourced from a local Formula One supplier, then wrapped in leather. Even the parcel shelf is carbon, and Hawley says the car weighs some 200kg less than when it left the Porsche factory – and that’s with the steel body, not the even lighter all-carbon option. Ten kilograms alone is saved thanks to a simplified wiring loom that does away with unnecessary baked-in features – did you know the 964 left Porsche with towing capability? Theon rightly assumes its customers won’t be needing that.
A twist of the key and the rear-mounted 3.8-liter, flat-six engine bursts into life. This is Theon’s mid-range, 371-horsepower motor, sitting between a 3.6-liter with 285hp and the flagship 4.0-liter pushing out a full 400hp.
All three drive the rear wheels through a manual six-speed gearbox from a 993-generation 911. Fed by individual throttle bodies and decorated with exposed carbon fiber, the engine delivers its trademark gruff soundtrack through an exhaust with values that can be opened for extra volume with a switch on the dashboard.
The weather on the day of my visit to Theon refused to play ball. With sodden roads and zero traction or stability control to spare my blushes – and the fact this car is already sold, booked on a flight to Hong Kong in a matter of days – it was a more leisurely test drive than normal.
That said, a press of the accelerator is all it takes to realize this 2,750lb car could likely keep pace with a current-generation 911, while producing a far louder and more intoxicating, normally-aspirated sound track. Even at sensible speeds the 964 is granted a new life bristling with feedback and energy. Despite having electric power steering, there is still plenty of feel and a clear sense that effort is demanded from the driver to make the most of the car’s newfound abilities. The suspension is firm, perhaps overly so for British roads, but it gives the car a surefooted and purposeful character.
Once car and driver find their rhythm, I have no doubt that what this 911 does, as with other restomods paid such meticulous attention, is deliver the joys of a classic. But one that always starts first time, connects to your smartphone for convenience, has the performance of its modern day successor, and is beautifully made to the highest standard by a company brimming with passion for its product.
These are early days for five-year-old Theon Design. But three more 964s waiting in the wings for their circa 18-month transformation – and plans to soon expand into a larger premises – prove customer demand is already here, and will doubtless stay.